Advocating for students with special needs

The IEU represented members at the NSW Inquiry into the Provision of Education to Students with a Disability or Special Needs last month.

In attendance was Assistant Secretary Pam Smith, the author and organiser of the IEU’s submission, myself, as a current IEU Organiser and recent classroom practitioner, and IEU member and special needs teacher Barbara Leiton, who brought detailed knowledge and experience to our representations to the inquiry.

Upon arriving at NSW Parliament House in Macquarie Street, our team was ushered to the special inquiry room and seated before the committee consisting of MPs Michael Gallacher (Lib), Duncan Gay (Nat), John Graham (Lab), Daniel Mookhey (Lab), Fred Nile (CDP) and David Shoebridge (The Greens).

Pam re-affirmed our Union’s position that definitions of disability vary from state to state and this affects the accuracy of the national collection of data (NCCD). As a result, students with learning disabilities often do not fall within the eligibility criteria for funding, nor do students with a range of other social, emotional, behaviour or other disorders which impact significantly on their learning. Pam said funding needed to be increased and secured to support teachers and support staff in the successful integration of students with disabilities.

I addressed the committee from my own experience of teaching students with special needs, and the difficulties and pressures that classroom teachers face in providing adequate support to special needs students within the mainstream classroom setting.

The committee was interested to hear from the experiences of specialist teacher, Barbara Leiton, who was able to provide an insight into special needs teaching. Barbara said more funding and support is urgently required to provide specialists and teachers to deliver the appropriate levels of education to special needs students required by law. The need to increase school staffing – specialist and teacher aide – and resourcing for ongoing professional development for teachers and support staff was highlighted.

Also of significant interest to the committee were the IEU’s comments about the importance of early identification and intervention of students with special needs before they commence formal schooling. Information about funding inadequacies and delays in the early childhood sector was provided and this will be followed up with further practical examples from the IEU’s early childhood members and specialist officers.

James Jenkins-Flint
IEU Organiser